The fish was a beauty: a 13-inch, wild-born cutthroat trout, muscular from its dappled yellow back to its pink belly, with a telltale red streak below its jaw. I had caught it myself, pulling up on the rod to snag it with the hook hidden in the fly and reeling it in so that Patrick Little, my guide, could grab it in a smooth, rubber net. I held it the way he taught me to, wetting my hand first, cradling its belly in my palm, and wrapping my thumb and fingers around it. Little snapped a photo. Then I quickly let the fish go, my heart pounding with excitement.
So, this was fly fishing—a type of angling using a lightweight rod, weighted line, and an artificial fly that, with the help of the angler’s rhythmic moves, mimics certain fishes’ favorite food. While on vacation at Montana’s high-end but eco-friendly The Ranch at Rock Creek, I had decided to learn to fly fish. I would be under the tutelage of the retreat’s expert guides, who made sure we fished as sustainably as possible.
I had no idea fly fishing would be so fun, but I was even more surprised to discover that catching the fish wasn’t the only awesome thing about the sport—it’s also extremely good for you. Fly fishing is great for mind, body, and soul. It exercised my muscles, calmed and focused my thoughts, gave me goals and a sense of accomplishment, and got me outdoors and into nature. (Here are 8 amazing health benefits of being in nature.)
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As it turns out, medical and scientific research backs up my experience. After jogging, fishing is the nation’s most popular outdoor activity, with nearly 48 million Americans casting for a bite in 2015, according to a joint report by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation and the Outdoor Foundation. Of that number, only a select few—about 13 percent—are fly fishing. That may be because it takes technique to be successful at it. But, as I discovered, a couple of lessons and some basic equipment (Amazon.com sells a fly fishing starter kit for $90) can get you—and the fish—hooked pretty quickly.
Here are the 7 surprising health benefits of fly fishing— plus some crucial advice on keeping it good for the fish, too.
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